Problems & Process: An Open Letter to Facebook

Dear Facebook user experience team*,

Just in case you’re listening, here’s what I hope will be a specific, constructive critique of your recent changes—instead of so much more of the caps-lock venting that seems such a common response to your work. I’ll start small and work my way to the bigger issues; if you want to skip to those, look for the longer paragraphs.

Unless I’m on the home page, it’s now two clicks to get to my bookmarked applications, instead of one. An annoyance, and unnecessary: Why undo your previous round of changes, which made what is now the left-hand navigation a usefully global element?

In fact, it can sometimes be a third click to get to a certain bookmarked app, since you now only show three such apps instead of six. Remembering the state of the “more”/”less” toggle across sessions would take away this extra step.

I’m not sure what prompted you to bury the Help Center in the Account menu; that seems like one of the most important links to have readily available and locatable for users of such a complex system—and one with such a varied user group in terms of skills and experience with the Web.

It’s nice that you clarified the difference between the Top and Most Recent Stories with the new names. But that’s another place where user preferences ought to be configurable (or, better, just remembered from session to session).

Further, I think many of us were a little surprised you put something out there with the original terminology (News Feed/Live Feed) to begin with; this change feels like a long overdue make-up call. In other words, your strange process has obscured the real innovation that you’ve got in place here. I’m sure there’s some complex algorithm running the Top Stories section, but your users can’t appreciate it because of all the drama (for lack of a more precise term).

Speaking of process, I think the bigger point, which no doubt you’ve heard, is that you need to just cool it for a while. Iterative design shouldn’t happen at the expense of your gazillion users; do your experimenting behind closed doors and then release major updates only when you’re confident that (a) you won’t have to change them for a while and (b) you have enough useful feedback from well-habituated users to be able to make the right changes to the old system. From the outside, it’s impossible to think that’s what’s going on now. Fix whatever corporate problem you have, an then put a new process in place.

In the meantime, as they say, leave Facebook alone.


P.S.: As for the stranded chat box at bottom-right… well… I’m sure you can’t be happy about that.

* Though I address this to the UX team, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that some bureaucratic pressure has left key decision-making power about the interface in the hands of a non-professional. [back to top]

4 thoughts on “Problems & Process: An Open Letter to Facebook

  1. devan February 9, 2010 / 10:32 am

    Nice piece. Two things in response.

    First, it’s how Facebook has undertaken its slow rollout that’s a big part of the problem. It’s one thing to unveil new features; it’s another to repeatedly tweak, move, replace, or rename existing features—in apparent ignorance of user habits and preferences. (It’s a third thing still to make your changes in misguided ways—e.g., the original News Feed/Live Feed terminology.)

    Second—and not just post hoc, but also truly propter hoc—if the goal (as the article suggests) is to avoid upsetting customers, Facebook has clearly failed. I think the slow rollout strategy is part of the reason, though again, I think the Devil’s in the details in this case.

    But, finally, I do think the article applies a lot more directly to the corporate website than it does to the likes of a Facebook. Facebook has the unfortunate position, among websites, of having the most users with the least technical expertise. So every change they make requires lots of “getting used to” for many of their users.

    It’s sort of like what they tell science fiction writers: You have to establish the rules early, and then stick to them. Facebook keeps changing their own rules. Once or twice might be fine, but this is, what, the fourth or fifth major change in two years? Too much, too fast.


  2. amanda February 13, 2010 / 4:34 pm

    Amen Devan!
    p.s. I didn’t realize you were still blogging! I will read more in the future!


  3. devan February 13, 2010 / 5:38 pm

    Haha. No problem. Welcome back!


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